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Tree to 45 m, 0.9 m dbh. Bark pale or dark grey. Branchlets yellow or brown with short yellow or brown hairs; older branchlets purplish brown, lenticellate. Leaves evergreen, rigid and leathery, 9.5–26 × 4.5–12.5 cm, obovate to elliptic, upper surface dark green and glossy with brown or clear hairs particularly on the midrib, lower surface densely covered with russet brown hairs (occasionally silvery in var. cinerascens), 12–16 secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins entire, apex acute to acuminate; petiole 1.5–3.5 cm long without scars; stipules free from the petiole, densely tomentose. Flowers on axillary shoots, pale yellow to white or greenish white, fragrant, brachyblast 1.3–2.5 cm long with three to four (to five) bracts; tepals 9–12, spathulate to broadly obovate, purple at base, 3–4.5 cm long; stamens yellow with purple filaments; gynoecium stipitate with many tomentose carpels. Fruits 5.5–14 cm long, cylindrical; ripe carpels subglobose or obovoid, black-brown, lenticellate, 0.8–2.2 cm long, beaked. Flowering March to April, fruiting September to November (China). Chen & Nooteboom 1993, Liu et al. 2004. Distribution CHINA: Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hainan, Hunan, Jiangxi, Yunnan, Zhejiang; VIETNAM. Habitat Evergreen broadleaved and mixed forests between 500 and 1800 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 7a. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Liu et al. 2004; NT473, NT491. Taxonomic note Liu et al. (2004) recognise M. foveolata var. cinerascens Y.W. Law & Y.F. Wu, a minor variant with greyish white hairs on the branchlets, petioles and lower leaf surfaces. Young plants are in cultivation.
Magnolia foveolata was first introduced from Nanjing Botanic Garden by Piroche Plants in 1993 and is a beautiful and distinctive species with amazing russet appressed indumentum on all parts, that shimmers in the light. This, coupled with the breadth and rigidity of the leaves, confers considerable grandeur on the tree; Peter Wharton commented that when mature and flowering it will ‘give Magnolia grandiflora a run for its money’ (Wharton 2007). In the wild specimens can be huge, but cultivated individuals are all still small, and flowering has yet to occur in either Cornwall or western America (S. Hogan, T. Hudson, pers. comms. 2007). The flowers are large, with creamy white tepals, and have comparatively large reddish anthers and a prominently exserted gynoecium. It has proved completely hardy in Vancouver (Wharton 2007), with only minimal damage from snow in November 2006 and none from the cold.